Women’s rights in Thailand: a buddhist perspective
Table of Contents
In Thailand, women’s employment is an important part of the country’s development. In 2012, the population of Thailand was 67,786 thousand persons,Office of the National Economic and Social Development Board, Office of the Prime Minister : Thailand,(2012): http://web.nso.go.th/en/survey/keysta…/keystat08.pdfRetrieve( 20 August 2012) of which 34,579 thousand were women – approximately 51 percent of the population. In the past, people were more likely to value men’s work. However today we can see some progress, for example Thailand elected its first female Prime Minister in August 2011 Bangkok Post : Thailand,(2011): http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/polit…/poll-result-to-be-known-around-10pm Retrieve( 20 August 2012). Such an election is very symbolic and a good incentive for employers in Thailand to value women’s work more. Still, societal attitudes need to change as women are still often perceived as having less skilled than men. Office of Women’s Affairs And Family Development: Thailand,(2012): http://webcache.googleusercontent.com…/Strategic_Plan_19Jan2012.doc+&hl=en&gl=th Retrieve( 21 August 2012) There are many well recognised women who make important contributions to society, despite having to struggle with such gender-based discrimination. Some examples include Ms.Paveena Hongsakul, who worked and fought to protect children and women’s rights; Ms. Roy Seehapong, who worked to protect the basic rights of people in communities; Ms. Khunying Kanitha Wichiencharoen, an outstanding social worker. Each of these women contributed greatly to the well-being of the society without expecting anything in return. Nowadays, female workers are a lot more accepted in society as their talent is more recognised. E-Learning: Thailand,(2012): http://www.kanzuksa.com/moto.asp?moto=6&data=20120308… Retrieve (21 August 2012) Women can be leaders as much as men. However, despite progress in this area, the role and contribution of women in society is still a debated topic. In this article, we would like to highlight the role of Khunying Kanitha Wichiencharoen, as she was the one who laid down the basic women’s rights in Thailand and promoted women’s education.
An inspiring Thai Buddhist nun: Mae chee Khunying Kanitha WichiencharoenMae Mae chee Khunying Kanitha Wichiencharoe was a Thai Buddhist nun (mae chee) born on November 4, 1920 in the “Samsen” family. When she graduated from Saint Joseph Convent School, she attended Thammasat University and studied Accountancy and Law. At that time, there were very few women attending university. After she graduated with a Bachelor degree in Thailand, she entered Columbia University in the USA and Geneva University in Switzerland , and majored in International Relations. She was inspired to study about Social Work at Harvard University.
Her work experience
Mae chee Khunying Kanitha began working at the United Nations , in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and then worked with Standard Vacuum Oil Company, a Tourism Organisation, as well as in the Thai-American Association. In addition to her daily work, she also worked as a social worker:
- In 1969, she was the chief of the Women International Association of Thailand The Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women: We-Train International House: Thailand,(2010): http://we-train.co.th/kunya1.html#1 Retrieve( 22 August 2012)
- In 1978-1980, she worked in Thailand’s National Commission on Women’s Affairs
- In 1962-1965, she was the chief of the Women Lawyers’ Association of Thailand under The Royal Patronage of Her Majesty The Queen
- In 1998-2002, she was the co-founder of the Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women, Young Buddhists Association of Thailand, Mahapajapati Theri College
An advocate for women’s rights in Thailand
From her work experience, she became aware of women’s issues such as the inequality between the sexes. She was also concerned about issues such as unexpected pregnancies and the associated HIV/AIDS problems for women and their children. She provided the Emergency Home for distressed women and children. The Emergency Home was established in 1974 and still runs today. It provides temporary shelter, food, as well as physical and mental rehabilitation services for women and children. Every day, there are about 150 women and children sheltering at the Emergency Home. Within the Emergency Home, the Women’s Clinic takes care of pregnant women, mostly young girls with unplanned pregnancies. These women mainly stay throughout their pregnancy.The Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women: Thailand,(2010) http://www.dharma-gateway.com/ubasika…/ubasika-kanittha-02.htm Retrieve (22 August 2012) From the beginning until 1982, the Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women (APSW) was registered as a legal charity. Its objectives were to promote women’s rights and eliminate discrimination against women in Thailand.The Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women :We-Train International House: Thailand,(1990): http://we-train.co.th/We-Train%20About%20APSW.htm… Retrieve( 22 August 2012) Maechee Khunying Kanitha is a founder and was the APSW president for many years. Now the APSW is under the Royal Patronage of HRH Princess Soamsawali.The Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women: Thailand,(2011): http://www.apsw-thailand.org/Intro.htm Retrieve (22 August 2012) In May 1989, Mae chee Khunying Kanitha established the Women’s Education and Training Center (WE-Train). The WE-Train offers opportunities for women to undergo vocational skills training for income-generating activities to empower them economically. Examples include: Hairdressing, dress-making, baking/cooking, learning about massages, computer skills, arts, mother-child care, care for the elderly, etc. Services are available for both Emergency Home members and the general public. Studies have shown that 80% of women completing the training were able to apply those skills in their new jobs.The Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women: Thailand (2011): http://www.apsw-thailand.org/Eeducate.html… Retrieve (22 August 2012) In October 1990, she also founded the Gender and Development Research Institute (GDRI).The Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women: Thailand,(2011): http://www.apsw-thailand.org/gdri-t.html Retrieve (22 August 2012) The GDRI has implemented programs with a view to mainstream women into the policy agenda and to enhance the full and effective participation of women in the decision making processes. The Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women: We-Train International House: Thailand,(1990): http://we-train.co.th/We-Train%20Gender%20Research%20Insti… Retrieve( 22 August 2012) On 23 October 1993, Mae chee Khunying Kanitha became a Buddhist nun in order to study Dharma and continue to improve people’s well-being in Thailand.Matichon Public: Thailand,(2002): http://www.dharma-gateway.com/ubasika…/ubasika-kanittha-01.htm Retrieve (23 August 2012) She thought that a good youth would be key to drive the country towards prosperity, so she established the Don Muang Youth Center in 1995. The Youth Center serves as a meeting place for youth with the aim of instilling in them the right attitude towards gender equality, social responsibility and reducing drug abuse and other addictions. It also provides sport facilities and plans other recreational activities, including youth camps and youth joining hands to do community work such as cleaning public telephone booths or footbridges in the area.The Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women :We-Train International House: Thailand,(1995): http://we-train.co.th/We-Train%20IOGTT%20Youth%20Center.ht… Retrieve (23 August 2012)
Mae’s vision of women’s role in society
Mae chee Khunying Kanitha Wichiencharoen wanted to see well-educated and socially-engaged nuns and women play a key role in Thai society. She wrote in her memorial book: “I’d like to see nuns and women play a more active role in society through social work. But they couldn’t possibly do this without a good educational background in dharma and worldly Knowledge.” Bangkok Post: Thailand,(2003): http://www.accessmylibrary.com/articl…/women-sow-seeds-future.html Retrieve (23 August 2012) In 1999, Mae chee Khunying Kanitha, with the cooperation of Thai Nuns’ Institute Foundation and the Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women, founded the Mahapajapati Theri College (MBC), the first Buddhist College for women in Thailand. MBC is affiliated with the monks’ university, Mahamakut Buddhist University.The Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women: Thailand,(2011): http://www.apsw-thailand.org/nun-th.html Retrieve (23 August 2012) The college offers a Bachelor of Arts degree in Buddhism and Philosophy. The Mahamakut Buddhist University is responsible for the curriculum and the president of the Mae chee’s college is a monk from the Mahamakut Buddhist University. Students at the college study subjects such as the three levels of Buddhism taught at Thai Buddhist universities and temples, Buddhist philosophy and psychology, the basics of Pali, mathematics, law, computer skills and English. The college has a socially engaged profile and in their fourth and final year the students teach basic English, mathematics and Buddhism in the local schools by the college. NIAS Press,(2007): http://books.google.co.th/books?id=mQ2_t8TMcAoC&pg=PA223&a… Retrieve (23 August 2012) Mae chee Khunying Kanitha dedicated her life with a passionate desire to help the Thai community, always focusing on giving. She has been widely praised, both locally and internationally, as a person who dedicated herself to society, and received many awards:
- The Thutiya Chunlachomklao insignia (1988) Wikipedia,(2012): http://th.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E0%B8%81%E0%B8%99%E0%B8%B4%E0%B8%A9… Retrieve( 24 August 2012)
- The Sacred Souls Award (1994)
- The honor of individuals with outstanding performance and her role to help resolve the prostitution issue (1995)
- The Outstanding Women in Buddhism Award (2002)
Mae chee Khunying Kanitha Wichiencharoen died of breast cancer at the age of 82 on May 13, 2002. However her life and actions continue to inspire Thai women.
- Forbes 100 most powerful women
- Women's World Awards